For limited use, buy a press that uses a big hydraulic jack as opposed to one that has a cylinder built in,” says Henry Shakal. “You eliminate maintenance problems. If anything goes wrong, you could simply replace the jack, and you can use that jack for other things.”
Retired in the late-1990s, Shakal still operates a farm equipment repair shop at Boyd, in north-central Wisconsin.
At Butler, Missouri, baby boomer Raymond Wiskur operates a mobile farm machinery repair service, has his own shop at home, and says much the same thing.
“If you need a shop press, all kinds of companies make them. Mine is real cheap and partly manufactured. I made crossbars so it could extend as wide as I need, and I put it on wheels,” Wiskur says.
Both men agree that a 20-ton hydraulic press will meet the needs on most farms for jobs like replacing bearings and pressing gears. You can buy these for less than $500 – complete with a bottle jack and cranking handle – from tool suppliers. That could be all your shop needs for many years.
The standard shop press on a farm gets very little use, but it is important when it is needed. It may be 50 years old, dirty, greasy, and working fine.
It probably has steel uprights on fixed spacing. These are joined at the top by a horizontal rail and below by a second rail that is movable. Mounted to the top rail is a jack, piston, or hydraulic ram. It applies force straight down against whatever is on a press plate on the lower rail.
Working space between the lower rail and the ram is called the daylight or throat. In this classic H-frame configuration, the throat size is a limit factor. It can be adjusted up and down, usually held in place by pins that go through holes in the frame.
Wiskur's modified press extends the rails past the uprights on one side to give his press an open-throat design. This is much less limited, as the piston can be moved outside the H to apply off-center pressing at full capacity.
A typical floor space requirement is about 30×40 inches.
Whether H-frame or open throat, the hand-operated one-size-fits-all approach is characteristic of the small shop press market, says Carl Jean, service manager for Greenerd Press & Machine Company Inc., Nashua, New Hampshire. His century-old company builds specialized presses for industrial markets.
“If you have to repair a lot of your own stuff and need something with the ability to press out bearings and shafts, you want something with a lot of versatility for doing something small or sticking a tire in the press,” Jean says.
The typical farm shop press is manual (hand-operated). A bottle jack or piston is fixed to a center point. Some allow the jack to travel or glide on the upper rail. You pump a handle in the jack to force the ram downward. It may take 20 strokes to move the ram 1 inch, and you can sense the pressure being applied.
The ram has to be returned to its starting point. For this, most manual shop presses use paired heavy springs that slowly push the ram back up. Some press makers fortify the structure and support the jack on a fixed lower rail.
As a variation to the bottle jack, a horizontal hydraulic cylinder may be mounted on an upright. The handle is at a more comfortable level. A high-pressure hose transfers oil pressure to a top-mounted single-acting piston.
The basic hydraulic press is manufactured in several designs, by old and new companies worldwide. Only a selected few labels are represented in the table above.
Some companies manufacture products for several labels. Some other names and labels include Grainger's Westward, Greg Smith's Shop Press, Harbor Freight's Central Hydraulics, Home Depot's Black Bull, Mac Tools, McMaster Carr, Napa Lifting Equipment or Napa Balkamp, Northern Tool's Torin Big Red, Phoenix Hydraulic, and Production Tool Supply.
The shop-size press may be rated as 10 tons to 200 tons. Most are at 20, 25, 50, 75, or 100 tons.
Companies offer options with air or electric pumps and with single- or double-acting cylinders. A press may have variable-ram speed with fingertip control or ram action that allows it to pull as well as press. Remote control for some high-end presses allows you to view all sides of a job.
An electric winch or self-locking hoist can change the working height on some models.
In general, options add to the cost, but the extras make a much faster, user-friendly press.
Dake Machine Tool, Grand Haven, Michigan, established 1887, still builds high-quality presses for farm-scale use. A 50-ton manual press, changed little in the past hundred years, still is the company's best-selling hydraulic press.
“The Force 25 Dura Press is our economy electric model. It's now our second best-selling model,” says Frank Kennedy, Dake marketing manager.
Kennedy says the product price and weight often mirror the wide range of quality for farms.
Many manual 20- to 25-ton hydraulic presses retail for $250 to $800 and weigh 200 to 400 pounds. Other models retail for $4,000 to $6,000 and weigh 400 to 1,500 pounds.
Even smaller presses are available, which are built with an A-frame or intended for a bench top.
“Weight reflects things like frame and construction,” Kennedy says. “Dake, SPX, and Enerpac are all reputable manufacturers. We all use classic double-acting hydraulic cylinders – not bottle jacks with external springs. At Dake, we use welded channel iron. Competitors' products are bolted.”
Whether fancy or basic, Wiskur recommends putting the shop press on locking caster wheels. It doesn't need to be mounted to the floor and, when not in use, it can be stored in a corner.
“I can roll my press right out to the middle of the floor so I can get around all sides of it,” he says.